If we have just dealt with Generation Y only with great difficulty, now a quite new generation is coming towards us. In a recently-published blog article regarding Generation Z, I tried to make clear the initial recognizable differences between the generations: As never before, with the Baby Boomers, Generations X & Y and now Z, we now have four quite distinct generations in the work life which are supposed to work and cooperate with each other. At most companies, the Baby Boomers have most of the power, define the “rules of the game”, thus dominate the organizations and wonder why they can no longer get the young generation excited about their company. Of course, it doesn’t help at all to tell nice stories during the job interviews. Generation Z lives only in the today and is characterized by a nomadic mobility which above all concerns the work world. In all recent job interviews that I have conducted, I have found this generation to be very self-confident whereby it very deliberately seeks out its work environment and if it doesn’t correspond to its vision, it also quickly leaves again.
In his book “Generation Z: What Makes It Tick, What It is Changing and Why It so Fascinates All of Us”, Christian Scholz described the argumentation chain espoused by Generation Z which consists of the five positive elements: (1) Strong work ethic, (2) excellent technology competence whereby (3) a spatial independence and (4) a fluid connection of the professional and private lives are created which ultimately is beneficial for the companies due to (5) increased flexibility and better company results – all of which are characteristics which can only please us and actually we have to do everything in order to acquire these ideal employees for us. But when I more closely examine today’s companies and critically assess their management systems – which are rarely co-shaped by the young generations, then I ask myself why so many companies do not (want to) recognize the trends of the time.
With regards to all the differences between the generations, there are certain trends which are constantly increasing across all the generations. Extrinsic incentive systems (money) are of substantially lower importance among the Baby Boomers while intrinsic motivations (enjoyment, satisfaction, etc.), altruism (helping without gaining a benefit for oneself) and the social orientation of the three value systems are those which are constantly falling. The Two-Factor Theory (also referred to as the Motivation-Hygiene Theory) from Frederick Herzberg is, as before, still valid, but the two factors are clearly only shifting: Firstly, the factor which refers to the content of the work (motivation factor) and, secondly, the factor which refers to the context of the work (hygiene factor). This societal transformation is not just of relevance for the companies, but rather absolutely has definite dramatic consequences when one considers the fact that the society is aging. I have also experienced this in my honorary work activities: For work which was previously performed voluntarily, it is now becoming more and more difficult to find volunteers and if we have somehow managed to get young people excited about fulfilling tasks, then they once again leave quickly when the work no longer corresponds to their intrinsic motivational factors.
Through their profound realism, Generation Z hardly has a loyalty to companies and also doesn’t seek to create one. It has learned that there exists no commitment and no loyalty either to companies or any other group. Loyalty is defined to a quite restricted group of friends and/or the family if this value still exists at all for Generation Z. Thus, relationships are understood to be in the sense of short-term relationships. This can pose a threat for companies – particularly in a knowledge society in which companies are dependent on know-how (which can oftentimes be developed only over the long term). And how are companies reacting to this development?
In my opinion, in a very unreal manner: Whenever large companies lay off thousands of employees in order to, for example, increase the share value, then loyalty is no behavioral model in Generation Z’s world view. It must assume that companies have just as little loyalty as it itself has and is thus neither surprised nor irritated about this situation. Therefore, the employees today see no problem whatsoever in causing problems for the company by terminating the employment relationship themselves or fully exploiting the provisions of employment agreements and employment laws regardless of to what extent this creates difficulties for the companies – and companies really don’t know how to handle this development at all. Stated differently: There is no relationship to a company! Generation Z lives in a situation which entails a lack of an emotional commitment to companies which are not a direct part of their direct private sphere. For it, this situation of a lack of an emotional commitment is thus normal. Therefore, this generation works at best “in” a company, but no longer “for” a company. But for whom does Generation Z then still work?
Even if value systems change, our neuronal system is still the same. Generation Z also strives for status, but no longer finds it at the companies, but rather only in its networks. They want to be able to autonomously affect something in their work environment, but still always see their bosses as controllers. Whoever does what he wants during his working time needs neither a boss who supervises him nor regulated structures, working times or even time-punch cards. These persons have sufficient self-responsibility to do their work. And Generation Z once again craves security more than ever, but their networks often guarantee this better than the companies oftentimes can. Good supervisors can communicate this feeling of security because they have a (genuine) interest in continuing to develop the employees in such a manner with their knowledge (which may always happen) in order to be prepared for the future. If this is perceptible, then Generation Z will work “for” its bosses because the bosses also do this for them.
Thus, we must change our organizations. We create mentors instead of bosses who can support their employees during their development instead of merely controlling them. Therefore, the organization of the future will have to look radically different or it will no longer exist. Whoever still today believes that we don’t have to deal with Generation Z because, thanks to the demographic transformation, it will have only minimal relevance and we should already focus on Generation Alpha – whoever thinks this should already know that this is no suitable path. Generation Y, which strives for achievement and success, is, due to external factors from politics, the working world and the society, increasingly embracing Generation Z’s value model. Thus, the value model of each generation can be conveyed to other generations and thus it is high time that we learn to better understand Generation Z.
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